Plastic Bags and Bag Bans

Environmental Impacts of Plastic Bags

  • Based on US EPA 2012 numbers, roughly 13 billion HDPE single-use plastic bags were generated annually in California.[i] Using the CalRecycle 2009 recycling rate of 3%[ii], 390 million bags are recycled while 12.6 billion bags end up in the landfills (even after re-use) or are littered.

  • A single-use HDPE plastic bag uses 50% more non-renewable energy, emits 40% more GHG emissions, has 40% greater impact on solid waste, and uses 30% more fresh water than a LLDPE film reusable bag that’s been used at least 8 times.[iii]

  • Plastic products, including HDPE bags, do not biodegrade, but instead disintegrate into small pieces that attract surrounding toxins to contaminate the environment and our food chain.[iv]

  • Volunteers at the annual International Coastal Cleanup have consistently reported that plastic bags are among the five most commonly found items.[v]

  • Algalita research shows an overwhelming amount of plastic in the stomach contents of albatross, marine mammals, sea turtles, fish and other marine life.[vi]

  • Plastic bags have been documented and found in the necropsies of turtles[vii], whales[viii], and other wildlife.

Local Plastic Bag Ban Results

Reduction in per capita usage of single-use bags

  • A plastic bag ban with a paper bag charge can reduce total per capita bag usage by an estimated 91%, from 419 bags to just 39.[ix]

  • A plastic bag ban alone can reduce total per capita bag usage by a more modest 40%, from an estimated 419 bags to 250 bags.[x]

Reduction in bag distribution costs

  • In Los Angeles County, the bag ordinance reduced single-use plastic bag distribution by 100%, including a capping of paper bag usage.[xi]

  • In Alameda County, the bag ordinance reduced bag purchases by 85% in less than two years. Stores bought 50-90% fewer bags for distribution.[xii]